EPA announces national limits on water discharges from steam electric power plants

October 19, 2015

With a new rule, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is fighting to reduce the amount of toxic waste steam electric power plants release into America's waterways. The EPA estimates its Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines, finalized September 30, will eliminate 1.4 billion pounds of toxic water pollution and reduce water withdrawal by 57 billion gallons every year.

In particular, the guidelines are aimed at reducing mercury, arsenic, lead and selenium. Each year, steam electric plants discharge:

● Nearly 65,000 pounds of lead and 3,000 pounds of mercury
● 79,200 pounds of arsenic,
● 225,000 lbs of toxic selenium
● 30,400,000 pounds of nitrogen and 682,000 pounds of phosphorus

Exposure to these chemicals, either by consuming contaminated drinking water or eating contaminated fish, can cause neurological damage in children, lead to cancer and damage the circulatory system, kidneys and liver.

About 23,600 miles of American rivers and streams are damaged by steam electric discharges, which account for about thirty percent of all industrial toxic pollution of these waterways. Due to their proximity to these plants and relatively high consumption of fish, some minority and low-income communities are at greater risk from the potentially fatal effects of this pollution. 

With its landmark new rule, "EPA is setting the first national limits to protect public health and reduce toxic pollutants…released into America's waterways by steam electric power plants," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "These cost-effective, achievable limits will provide significant protections for our children and communities across the country, including minority and low-income communities, from exposure to pollutants."

The EPA estimates that about 12 percent of the 1,080 steam electric power plants in the U.S. will have to improve their technology in order to achieve regulatory compliance under the new guidelines. 

Because of how rapidly they can change, staying on top of and following EPA regulations and policies can be difficult and time consuming. Hiring environmental consultants can help you better understand the latest government trends and regulations, and find quick, cost-effective ways to meet them.